MORE than 1,000 members of al-Majali, one of the biggest Bedouin tribes in Jordan, held an urgent meeting in its southern base of Karak earlier this week. The tribe was publicly rebelling against its chieftain's declared support for Saudi rulers by backing Iraq in its confrontation with the West. The meeting on Monday was not only an indication of the diminishing influence of traditional tribal hierarchy in Jordan but, according to Jordanian analysts, it was a sign of the failure of an active Saudi campaign to counter rising popular opposition to the United States-led military buildup in the Gulf.
During the last month, Saudi Arabia has reportedly tried to use its traditional influence over the Bedouin tribes on the Jordanian borders in order to exert pressure on King Hussein to alter his position on the Gulf crisis. The king has called for an Arab solution to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and demanded a withdrawal of all foreign troops from the Gulf.
``It is no secret that many of the tribes' elders and even junior members have been on the Saudi payroll for years,'' notes a Jordanian official. ``But Riyadh has never used its leverage to instigate [unrest] against the regime.''
But as Saudi-Jordanian relations have deteriorated over the Gulf crisis, Saudi state radio has continuously broadcast the names of tribal elders - mainly from the south - who have allegedly sent telegrams of support to King Fahd.
Some pro-Saudi elders - including the chief of the influential al-Majali tribe, which has provided many of Jordan's leading politicians - published advertisements in Jordan's daily newspapers praising the Saudi rulers. The steps drew angry reactions from younger, more politicized members of the clan.
``These [elders] do not represent anybody but themselves,'' says Attawi al-Majali, a senior member of the tribe. Analysts say the elders' support for Saudi rulers also reflects a desperate attempt to regain their status and prestige, which has been shaken by the democratization process in the country.
During last November's general elections, most tribal elders or their parliamentary candidates were defeated by junior members of the clans who represented more democratic views.
At first, Amman, careful not to infuriate Riyadh (which has provided 13 percent of the Jordanian budget since 1979), did not react to the Saudi intervention. This weekend, however, it moved to undercut the pro-Saudi influence by dissolving the municipal council of the southern town of Ma'an after its members visited Saudi Arabia and declared their allegiance.
Residents of Karak and Ma'an, say Jordanian security forces recently interrogated people suspected of being on the Saudi payroll after their names were repeatedly announced on Saudi radio as supporters of Riyadh.
Amman, however, is not expected to take the case further, according to officials. Analysts say the government is concerned that current differences over the Gulf crisis should not open old wounds or revive historical territorial claims by both the Hashemite and Saudi dynasties.
In 1920, Sherrif Hussein of Mecca, King Hussein's grandfather, was forced out of his Hijazi kingdom by the Saudis. After the establishment of the Hashemite dynasty in Transjordan, Saudi tribes continued raids into Jordanian territories until 1933, when a British-brokered treaty brought about mutual recognition.
Since then, mutual relations have appeared to proceed smoothly. Hidden tensions and disputes were never allowed to erupt in the open until the beginning of the Gulf crisis in August.
Angered by King Hussein's demand for a withdrawal of US-led troops from the Gulf, Saudi Arabia has sought uncharacteristic reprisals. In less than 10 days, Riyadh has cut off its oil supplies to Jordan, deported Jordanian diplomats, and banned Jordanian trucks and cargo from entering Saudi Arabia.
Quoted in a New York Times article Sept. 25, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, launched a scathing attack against King Hussein accusing him of ``hypocrisy.''
Khaled Mahadeen, a leading Jordanian columnist and an information official, countered by accusing Prince Bandar of affiliation with the US Central Intelligence Agency. In an article carried by Jordan's Al-Rai newspaper, Mr. Mahadeen implied that Bandar was conspiring against King Fahd, with US help, to take over the Saudi throne.
The article reflects a widely-held view here that King Fahd was pressured by Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz al-Saud, head of the Saudi Army, and Bandar to invite US troops to his country.
``Aggressive policies are very unlike the Saudi style, we feel that King Fahd is under pressure by other members of the family and the Americans,'' says a former senior Jordanian official.